MPEG-LA Follows Through On Its Promise To Go After Google For Daring To Offer Patent-Free Video

from the we-must-find-some-patents! dept

Right after Google announced that it was "freeing" up its VP8 video codec under the WebM name, in an effort to get away from the heavily patented H.264 standard, MPEG-LA, the private company that manages the H.264 patent pool and has done some patent trolling at times, announced that it was planning to set up a patent pool around VP8 insisting that it simply wasn't possible that there could be a web video standard that wasn't patented (and wasn't paying MPEG-LA, I guess).

That was back in May, and it's taken until February, but MPEG-LA has officially put out a call for patents that cover VP8. That's a pretty clear declaration of war. It's also fairly obnoxious. What sort of organization blatantly says "Company X has released a cool technology to the world, and we're going to find any and all patents that will destroy that?" What an incredibly anti-innovation stance.

That said, I do wonder why it took so long between announcing the original plans and making this call. Perhaps it's discovered that it wasn't quite as easy as they had hoped to find patents that cover VP8. For its part, Google insists it's committed to fighting to keep V8 patent-free, and hopefully it stands by that commitment.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 2:17am

    "Look at us! We're becoming irrelevant!"

    In spite of being an industry standard codec. Well played, folks. You just pissed off one of the largest tech companies in the world.

     

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      Designerfx (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:10am

      Re:

      not to mention one of the biggest communities as well, considering that this stuff is GPL'd.

      This should be a hilarious chicken and egg scenario, as every patent comes out, every patent will be bypassed probably within a week.

      Maybe this will be the perfect example of how patents don't fit in society today as even patents can't keep up with software.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        John Duncan Yoyo, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:09am

        Re: Re:

        More to the question how long will it take for someone to come up with a patent to block the H.264 that they missed.

         

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      bryan (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:00pm

      Re:

      Not only did they MPEG-LA decide to piss off one of the largest tech companies in the world, they also chose to piss off the company that is responsible for a large part (if not the majority of web video) through Youtube.

      It would be funny for Google to switch all the encoding on Youtube from H.264 to Web M. Google has the ability and MPEG-LA just gave them a good reason to do it. Chrome already supports WebM, Firefox is supporting WebM also.

       

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        Spudd86, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 11:44am

        Re: Re:

        You forgot to mention Adobe is planing to add WebM support to flash, so basically we're left with Windows not supporting out of the box, but can be made through codec installation, and the iPad... smooth Apple, people aren't going to blame youtube when it stops working on their iPads.

         

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    cc (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 2:35am

    I would guess the delay was caused by negotiations taking place between MPEG LA, Microsoft and Apple, who have teamed up to promote H.264 just to be a thorn in Google's side.

    Microsoft is releasing "plugins" for H.264 for both Firefox and Chrome (which IIRC have dropped built-in support for the codec, or will soon). I suppose since Microsoft is already paying (or rather, users are paying) for H.264 to be in WMP, so this makes no big difference to them.

     

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    identicon
    Florian Mueller, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 2:46am

    MPEG starts development of royalty-free video codec standard

    MPEG (the standardization body, not the MPEG LA licensing agency) has decided to develop a royalty-free video codec standard. They will probably use, for the most part, patents that have expired or are on the verge of expiration. That initiative ups the ante for VP8.

     

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      techflaws.org (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 3:00am

      Re: MPEG starts development of royalty-free video codec standard

      Any reason in particular your blog has comments disabled? Due to bogus german laws concerning secondary liability?

       

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      nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 7:45am

      Re: MPEG starts development of royalty-free video codec standard

      Presumably MPEG LA will then call for patents covering that. Can't have competition in the market, now can we?

       

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    identicon
    Yogi, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 2:46am

    Incredible

    I can't wait to hear how advocates of the patent system ("it drives innovation") explain this.

     

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    Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 3:25am

    "MPEG-LA Follows Through On Its Promise To Go After Google For Daring To Offer Patent-Free Video"

    MPEG-LA and companies like them (i.e. Micro$0ft, Etc) are one of the major roadblocks to American Innovation. Or any Innovation for that matter. I hate patent trolls. };P

     

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    Lachlan Hunt (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 3:36am

    You've incorrectly referred to VP8 as V8 several times in the article. Please correct that.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 4:03am

    Perhaps it's discovered that it wasn't quite as easy as they had hoped to find patents that cover V8.

    Oh, it is very easy to find patents that cover VP8. Just look at the patents On2 had. Most or quite possibly all the non-expired valid patents that cover VP8 will be there.

    A lot of people incorrectly think VP8 is patent-free. It is not. It is royalty-free, because Google explicitly licensed these patents to everyone. See http://www.webmproject.org/license/additional/ for that license. As an aside, if anyone has a list of the On2 VP8 patents, I am curious to look at them.

     

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      Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 4:12am

      Re:

      The Google license is a kind of "patent-left" that includes a booby trap designed to catch MPEG-LA.

      The question is really "Are there any patents on VP8 that Google does not control?"

      If there are, and MPEG-LA gets their hands on one then Google's booby trap will go off and basically no-one will be able to use VP8. This will be a tragedy - but it will expose the hypocrisy of MPEG-LA (who go on about the supposed benefits of their patent licensing scheme).
      They will be shown to be nothing more than the IP "mob" running a protection racket.

       

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        Jeff Rife, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 12:48pm

        Re: Re:

        Your first statement is correct, but the "booby trap" will
        only keep the people/company who have sued somebody over VP8 for violating a patent from continuing to use VP8.

        What this means is that if you sue, you must then stop using VP8 in any way, including examining the source code for patent infringement.

         

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    identicon
    abc gum, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 4:34am

    Why do the freetards at MPEG-LA think they deserve a piece of every video codec? This entitlement society needs to go away.

     

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      Spudd86, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 11:49am

      Re:

      I think you misunderstand what 'freetards' means... the MPEG-LA is about 3rd last on the list of groups for whom that epithet is appropriate (below them is the RIAA and the MPAA).

       

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    jharperweb (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 4:43am

    Wow - Lots of hat towards the MPEG-LA on this blog! I'm personally glad to see them going after Google and looking to see if their "new" WebM codec is really as patent free as they claim.

    It's widely known that WebM is an inferior codec to H.264 in terms of quality, so it's freeness is really it's only advantage. Personally - I don't like having WebM shoved down our throats like Google is planning to do (by taking native H.264 support out of Chrome). Should be interesting.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:01am

      Re:

      The simplicity of VP8 is another advantage. The x264 developer even thanked them in his blog for not adding complex features like interlacing.

      And as I mentioned above: it is not patent-free, it is royalty-free. Nobody is claiming it to be patent-free, because it is not: Google has the On2 patents on it.

       

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      Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:18am

      Re:

      Wow - Lots of hat towards the MPEG-LA on this blog!

      MPEG-LA id basically a business conspiracy against the public interest. What do you expect?

       

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      Berenerd (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:25am

      Re:

      if you mean "shoved down our throats" in the way that Chrome is your web browser of choice....then sure....however there are other web browsers out there that you can use freely. I am sure google wont mind.

       

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:37am

      Re:

      Well, I got good news for you. I just did an HTML5 test on my latest Chrome (Beta) install and it supports WebM, Ogg Theora, and H.264. The only one that doesn't now is Firefox 4 (who, for as long as I've been testing, has only supported WebM and Theora).

       

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        bryan (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:12pm

        Re: Re:

        Firefox does not support H.264 because it is not an open technology. The codec is free to use for now but there is no guarantee that it will stay that way.
        Mozilla objects to the way H.264 is being handled and choses to only include open tech with in Firefox.

        I can't say that I disagree with Mozilla; and to some extent Google, on the decision not to support H.264 and rather support open alternatives in Theora and WebM in their browsers.

        It likely will not matter much unless Google drops H.264 encoding for Youtube (which they could do), since the main push for H.264 has been for mobile devices.

         

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        Spudd86, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 11:54am

        Re: Re:

        Chrome won't be supporting h264 much longer, google announced that a week or two ago.

         

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      vivaelamor (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 10:42am

      Re:

      "I don't like having WebM shoved down our throats like Google is planning to do (by taking native H.264 support out of Chrome)."

      How is that shoving it down your throat? Did someone configure your computer so that it only runs Google Chrome? Did they deny you access to the source code?

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:34am

      Re:

      Lesser yes, horrible no.

      You would be hard pressed to noticed the difference, which is only apparent when you compare the two video streams side by side and even then it is hard to see the differences cause they are so subtle.

       

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      Spudd86, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 11:52am

      Re:

      It'll be a while before anyone really knows how the two codecs stack up, VP8 does not have a mature implementation, h264 does, at the moment there is NO way to run a fair comparison (crappy h264 encoders can't even compete with Theora or XVID, implementation quality is VERY important)

       

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      pdire (profile), Feb 20th, 2011 @ 8:34am

      Re:

      jharperweb is obviously a paid MPEG-LA shill. The same old nonsensical talking points.

      Shame on you.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Aerilus, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:10am

    I really hope Google doesn't get disenfranchised by the fact that they are trying to do something for users for free only to get sued. they released android and now htc is paying Microsoft to use it they release a java substitute for free and get sued by oracle no they release a free video codec and get sued by these guys. I am sure Google knows what it is doing and knows how to turn a profit and that in that manner they are no more or less evil than most corporations but they really do seem to have a drive to move things forward and bring useful technology to the masses for free. i hope that they don't abandon this consumer friendly stance due to the actions of legacy businesses who refuse to stay current

     

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    Ted Wise, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:21am

    I also think the delay was due to negotiations, but not between MPEG-LA and Microsoft/Apple but between MPEG-LA and Google. They almost definitely went to Google and tried to get them to pay a licensing fee for VP8 and/or get them to use H.264.

     

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    Shon Gale (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:32am

    They sure shut down your link quick. Bad Press Sucks. And I quote 'but MPEG-LA has officially put out a call for patents that cover V8' The link be dead.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:35am

    This is one of those rare instances where I don't feel very good about either side in the battle, and can't help but wish there was a third alternative.

    MPEG-LA is obviously a greedy bunch of people, trying to make all the money they can before their patents expire.

    Google is the ultimate "get in the middle of everything" company, attempting to expand their tentacles in another direction. If V8 was fronted by anyone other than Google, I would feel better. But with Google at the helm, I can't help but feel that more of my personal data and surfing habits will be monitored and remembered by the borg.

     

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      Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 5:51am

      Re:

      Of course if Google gets its free standard established then anyone can use it ....

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 7:46am

        Re: Re:

        As always, Google is in the middleman business. Don't be shocked it their video protocol also includes some tracking or reporting concepts, or perhaps easily allows for Google Ads but no others to be used as overlays.

        There is no free lunch, and Google knows how to sell lunch.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:04am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Don't be shocked it their video protocol also includes some tracking or reporting concepts, or perhaps easily allows for Google Ads but no others to be used as overlays."

          You're an idiot. Do you think people won't notice this. People will notice and Google knows it.

          I doubt the patent has included in its description some tracking feature that lets Google track you. Then, all I have to do to not infringe, at least on that part, is not include that tracking feature. and I highly doubt Google will freely license their patents under the condition that others write code in the software that lets us track them. You're simply making things up now.

          As far as getting in the middle, you aren't forced to use the codec. You can always use another codec, but MPEG will likely have a patent on that codec and they will likely get in the middle of your use by suing you. Which do you prefer? Google is doing a good thing.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:34am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Don't be shocked it their video protocol also includes some tracking or reporting concepts, or perhaps easily allows for Google Ads but no others to be used as overlays.

          I read the full spec. There is no such thing. VP8 is nothing more than a video compression scheme (uncompressed YUV video enters from one side, VP8 compressed video comes the other side - and vice versa for the decompressor). Vorbis (the audio part) comes from outside Google, and it is also nothing more than an audio compressor. And WebM (the container which is what you usually see, it has a VP8 and a Vorbis stream within it) is nothing more than a restricted version of Matroska (which you might have already seen as .mkv files elsewhere), which again is from outside Google and is nothing more than a multimedia container format.

          There is no tracking or reporting concept in Matroska as far as I know, and even if there were it would depend on being implemented by the players (good luck getting them to agree to do so). Even less so in the more restricted WebM format, which only allows for some of the Matroska tags.

          As for overlays, there are no overlays in WebM as far as I know (other than perhaps subtitles, though the documentation says it currently does not have subtitles). Even if there were, there is nothing in the specification which would prevents its use by others; it is completely open.

          No, where Google gains in this is obvious: Youtube. WebM is clearly a ploy against MPEG-LA, and it already has had some success (by making them extend their "promise" of not requiring a license in certain situations). Without the threat of WebM, nothing prevents MPEG-LA from jacking up the prices. With WebM on the table, they can negotiate better prices, or else they will convert Youtube completely to VP8 (Google can do this, since most users play Youtube using Flash, and Adobe has already agreed to add VP8 as a codec in Flash - which, given that they already used On2's previous codecs, is not surprising), which would weaken MPEG-LA's monopoly (you would not need H.264 anymore for the most popular video site in the Internet).

          By releasing it as royalty-free, they instantly gained the support of one of the most popular browsers (Firefox), and the support of the entire free software community (which has long been tired of not being able to implement good-quality video codecs in countries which allow for software patents). Plus an amount of goodwill (they like having the image of being the "good guys", and this image is good for business).

           

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:32am

      Re:

      Lesser yes, horrible no.

      You would be hard pressed to noticed the difference, which is only apparent when you compare the two video streams side by side and even then it is hard to see the differences cause they are so subtle.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:32am

      Re:

      oops! sorry response to wrong post.

       

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    Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 6:00am

    MPEG LA

    If you look on their site they advertise the "benefits" of their "service".

    Oddly the benefits to patent holders and benefits to technology developers are identical...

    Hmmm

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 7:10am

    So how much R&D did MPEG-LA do to develop the technology that it has patents on?

     

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    nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    Market

    MPEG-LA is trying very hard to make this seem like a market-driven initiative:

    "in view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies, there have been expressions of interest from the market urging us to facilitate formation of licenses that would address the marketís need for a convenient one-stop marketplace alternative to negotiating separate licenses with individual patent holders in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so."

    I'm not sure I've ever seen that word used more times in one sentence.

     

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      chris (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:03am

      Re: Market

      MPEG-LA is trying very hard to make this seem like a market-driven initiative:

      they keep using that word. i do not think it means what they think it means.

       

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        Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 9:10am

        Re: Re: Market

        The MPEG LA beef is very simple.

        A patent pool with once license to pay is better than lots of separate companies with their own patents fighting each other and allowing the users to get caught in the crossfire.

        This is true - unfortunately for them a patent pool is a lot worse than having a codec that has an irrevocable (provided you don't claim your own patent is infringed and take us to court) royalty free license available to everyone.

        Basically their logic is the logic of the mob. Better to have one gang boss in firm control rather than competing gangs fighting it out on the streets.

        Of course the best solution of all is to have proper law and order (ie fix the patent system to eliminate s/w patents). In the absence of that Google is stepping in as a kind of "superhero" fighting legal IP violence with its own legal IP booby traps.

         

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          nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 10:27am

          Re: Re: Re: Market

          The MPEG LA beef is very simple.

          A patent pool with once license to pay is better than lots of separate companies with their own patents fighting each other and allowing the users to get caught in the crossfire.


          If their position were stated honestly, it's that encumbering VP8 with a patent pool is better (for MPEG-LA) than allowing it to compete with H.264 as a royalty-free alternative.

           

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            Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:56am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Market

            Yes - that's basically what I was saying.

            They state the advantages of a patent pool over a patent thicket - but what Google is offering is better still and they don't want to compete with that.

             

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              nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 12:13pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Market

              Exactly right, they're setting up a false dichotomy, which I'm hoping Google challenges successfully. It would be unfortunate if MPEG-LA were able to frame the debate this way.

               

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      The eejit (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 9:01am

      Re: Market

      They love the marketplace, so long as they have no competition. I'm pretty certain that's an antitrust violation.

       

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    Thomas (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 12:50pm

    corporations..

    absolutely hate innovation. Why bother with innovation when you can make money suing people? The patent system is so broken that it will never be fixed.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 1:31pm

      Re: corporations..

      Actually, this is a perfect example of what happens when there is a "patent road block". Mike Masnick would like you to think that a patent stops all progress. There is only one video codec, because someone has a patent on a video codec.

      The reality? Just like the internet, true innovators look at a patent as a "fault" or a "broken path", and look for other ways to go around the path. They spend the time and the effort to find better solutions and to move forward, effectively circumventing the "broken path".

      Real innovation happens when there is motivation. Mike just doesn't like to admit it is possible.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 8:28pm

        Re: Re: corporations..

        The reality? Just like the internet, true innovators look at a patent as a "fault" or a "broken path", and look for other ways to go around the path. They spend the time and the effort to find better solutions and to move forward, effectively circumventing the "broken path".

        You clearly don't work in the software business. Quite often in fact, idea/process patents cover the result not the method. There are no shopping carts that don't infringe or websites with databases on the back end for that matter. Those are not inventions, they're deal breakers and there's no doubt that theres one in every codec, no matter how original. You simply don't understand. When they say "Every codec infringes" that's precisely what they mean.

         

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        Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:09pm

        Re: Re: corporations..

        Mike Masnick would like you to think that a patent stops all progress.

        Does it make you feel all warm inside every time you lie about what I believe?

        http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100518/2343189483.shtml

         

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          nasch (profile), Feb 15th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

          Re: Re: Re: corporations..

          Does it make you feel all warm inside every time you lie about what I believe?

          It makes him feel all warm for a minute while he wets his pants, but then it gets cold.

           

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        pdire (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 2:40am

        Re: Re: corporations..

        Great, another paid MPEG-LA shill.

        On2 did look for ways to go around the path. But since the MPEG-LA cartel has immorally sought to gather patents from everyone and prevent others from competing, that was a problem. Still, On2 did it. And what happens? The MPEG-LA mafia tries to hijack VP8!

         

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 10:37pm

    The kind of company that gets in the way of innovation and liberty? They're called monopolists.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Paul Keating, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 4:05am

    Patent Abandonment

    I think it is high time for a change here: 2 suggested rules:

    1. Require a statement of intended use by the applicant.

    2. Provide an abandonment rule for patents similar to that of trademarks. If a patent has not been placed into commerce (under a substantial activities test) consistent with the intended use, then the patent should lapse.

    This would eliminate most trolls since they survive on old patents that have never been used (or whose application to a use was never contemplated). It would also free-up the innovation process.

    PRK

     

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    icon
    CarlWeathersForPres (profile), Feb 15th, 2011 @ 8:52am

    Shouldn't be software patents, turnaround is too quick. Google won't worry too much.

     

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